In the lead-up to 2022 Training Camp, we're inspecting the Patriots roster position by position. Today, an examination of the edge and linebackers.
Analysis: There will be some change at the second level of the defense this season, where Matthew Judon and Ja'Whaun Bentley are the only two returners that have played significant defensive snaps for the Patriots. Judon was all over opposing quarterbacks early last season though wasn't as productive at the end, while 2020 defensive captain Bentley finished his best season and will be counted on to provide leadership in the new-look room. The veteran duo will be counted on to be major playmakers.
Raekwon McMillan looks headed for a significant role inside next to Bentley, while free agent signing Mack Wilson should also be in the mix to provide some upgraded athleticism to the group.
After those four there are plenty of questions about who can and will step up and ascend at linebacker. Josh Uche has gotten lots of looks across the defense but still seems like he hasn't quite settled into one place yet. He has the kind of quickness off the edge that the D needs opposite Judon.
Ronnie Perkins has similar edge potential but experienced a red shirt season in 2021 and remains one of the bigger unknowns on the roster. Anfernee Jennings also was missing in 2021 but showed some promise in 2020. He's a big, physical edge setter that could be an early-down option.
Inside, the team will consider Jahlani Tavai and Harvey Langi, both experienced veterans who contribute on special teams. Second-year Cameron McGrone will also be in this mix, as the athletic 2021 fifth-rounder has gotten a fair share of attention this offseason. Undrafted Purdue edge player DaMarcus Mitchell is the only new rookie face but shouldn't be intimidated by the depth chart above him.
How well this group comes together could very well determine a big part of how the 2022 season turns out for the Patriots. Simply put, new playmakers must emerge, especially against the pass. Judon will get after the QB, but he won't be able to do it alone.